The Search for the Bendire’s at the Thrasher Spot

The Trasher Spot in Arizona is famous in the birding world as the location to see four thrashers: sage, crissal, Bendire’s, and Le Conte’s. It is also known as one of the best spots in it’s range to see the notoriously sulky and ghost-like Le Conte’s thrasher.

I had seen the Le Conte’s thrasher, after many, many attempts, just west of the dump in Borrego Springs, California in January of 2019 so this illusive thrasher was not my target bird for this visit, but the Bendire’s thrasher was.

Spring flowers and a tire at the Trasher Spot.

I wandered around the spot and I found no thrasher. A few horned larks and western meadowlarks lifted away as a red-tail circled above. In the taller trees I spotted a bird perched up but as I got a better look it was just a mockingbird. Well that was looking and sounding like a good omen.

Off to my left a bird was perched up on some sagebrush. Could this be the Bendire’s? I needed to get closer to get a positive identification. As I got closer, the bird flew farther away to another sagebrush perch. I circled round to get the bird in some better light. This was a thrasher alright, not a Bendire’s but a sage thrasher.

After searching for just over an hour and only seeing one thrasher species, the sage thrasher, I decided to pack it in for the day and return again in the morning, my last full day in Phoenix, to add Bendire’s to my life list and I hoped it was not going to be as hard and laborious as the Le Conte’s thrasher.

I headed west on West Salome Highway, making my way back to Highway 10. When I slowed near the intersection of the impossibly named 339th Avenue, I saw a mimid-type bird perched on the roadside announcing the intersection of 339th Avenue.

I immediately pulled over and cursed myself for packing my bins and camera in the trunk. As I stepped out of the car, the bird dropped down and disappeared from sight before I could identify it. I was not going to give up now!

Now I was armed with the instruments of a birder. The mystery mimid flew across the highway and landed in a tree of sticks. The hunt was on!

I managed to scuttle across the highway without becoming a grill ornament on a pick up truck (the state vehicle of Arizona) and bushwhacked ( they were short bushes) and made my siege on the tree-bush.

All I needed was a brief glimpse. Give me the shorter beak with a pale base, the yellow eye, or the arrow shaped markings on the breast. Then I would close out all the North American thrashers! Oh and a photo would be nice.

In typical thrasher fashion the bird put a load of branches between itself and myself. But I did get enough pieces of the puzzle that added up to Bendire’s Thrasher. Lifer and the final thrasher on my list! We played a game of hide and seek as I tried to get a photo, the Bendire’s not giving a fig about me and my selfish wants.

This Bendire’s looked a bit odd. It was something about it’s bill. When I put bins on the bird, I noticed it was carrying a butterfly. Was this a snack or a gift?


Phoenix, Sedona, Flagstaff

For my one week spring break I decided to keep it close and sketch, bird, and nature loaf in the Grand Canyon State (without visiting the Grand Canyon). And also see one of the best meteor crater strikes on planet earth along with the observatory where Pluto was discovered.

The Southwest is a landscape of red-rust rocks, olive greens, and blue skies. I would need a slightly different palette to capture the landscapes around Sedona, a different palette than I use in coastal California.

I added some more paints such as quinacridone burnt orange by Daniel Smith to add to the desert colors I would be using in attempting to render the Arizona landscapes before me.

The beginning of any adventure is creating a map. I may or may not stick to the route but it provides the framework for miracles and wonder (featured sketch).

From my digs in Sedona I would be heading north to the colder climes of Flagstaff and then 37 miles east to the Meteor Crater near Winslow. I want to field sketch the crater from its rim. It will be cold, with a high of 45 so I am bringing my October Yellowstone jacket beanie, and gloves.

Once I get the meteor crater in my sketchbook I will head back to Flagstaff to the Lowell Observatory, my sketching target: the Pluto Discovery Dome where the search for Planet X ended as Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto on February 18, 1930.

I return to Phoenix and chose to stay west of downtown. The location is near Skyharbor but also about 40 minutes to the famous “Thrasher Spot”. This legendary birding destination is the best place to see the elusive Le Conte’s thrasher (and three other thrasher species). Good thing I have this desert wraith on my life list already. This nemesis bird took a lot of time and legwork to see, but I finally saw a Le Conte’s on January 4, 2019 just west of the landfill at Borrego Springs. But I do not have Bendire’s thrasher and if I see this bird, I will close out all North American thrashers!